Monthly Archives: November 2013

Thought Bubble 2013 Field Report

I wrote this about last weekend’s Thought Bubble comic convention at Leeds for Nerdly:

Thought-Bubble-2013

Over for another year, this weekend’s Thought Bubble was the biggest in its short history, and it definitely felt it. While I didn’t attend every panel or get every signature that I wanted to, my days were still jam-packed with awkward fan-worship of idolised writers, wonderful small press discoveries and comfortable reprieves in the plush Bury Theatre in which writers and artists waxed lyrical about their work and industry.

On arriving at New Dock, I and a couple of friends navigated the main hall as best we could, but the first morning of Thought Bubble is always (in my experience) the busiest, and I may have slightly regretted packing my decade-old, ramshackle rucksack to the brim with quite as many comics and trades as it made me something of an obstacle to all beside and behind, especially when we stopped to gawk at a table’s wares.

Might as well get this out of the way as quickly as possible: Despite my overflowing backpack and enthusiasm for many of the con’s attendees, I got almost nothing signed aside from a few choice Matt Fraction picks (whom I attempted to talk to briefly about ’70s paranoid thrillers before suffering from a keen awareness of both my own encroaching hero worship and the dozen-strong queue of like-minded fans behind me) and the first issue of Six-Gun Gorilla, which artist Jeff Stokely scrawled on for me in between having his ear talked off by an overenthusiastic middle-aged gentleman.

[I did talk to the book’s writer, Si Spurrier, on a couple of occasions, but never actually had his comics on me when I needed to. Same goes for about ten other creators.]

You could say I failed the entire weekend right there – and you’d be correct, frankly – but while I may have forever crippled by back for no good reason whatsoever, I certainly didn’t waste my time.

The first panel I attended was a sketching session including Annie Wu, Joe Quinones, Meredith Gran and Declan Shalvey, all of whom spoke eloquently about their craft while practicing it in a few different character studies for the audience to see. I’m no artist, and seeing someone practice their skill as one is always going to engender both admiration and intense loathing in me. So yeah, they were all great.

Talented bastards, the lot of them.

Both the Image Independence in the U.K. and the Marvel Q&A sessions were defined by humour, especially the latter, with Matt Fraction, Si Spurrier and Kieron Gillen providing many of the laughs and plenty of jokes about Young Avengers artist Jamie McKelvie dying (it’s okay, though; Kelly Sue DeConnick defended him, and I have it on good authority from the man himself that he wouldn’t have anyone else in his corner). You had to be there.

There was also a lot of emotion in the Marvel panel, too, as a few questions were directed towards creators’ gratification and ‘proudest moments’ questions (there was also a ‘what was your least proud moment?’ question too, which led to some wonderfully disparaging yet uplifting stories from the group). Fraction summed up the panel’s feelings by stating that – at the risk of being corny – the audience is the best thing about what he does, because the dialogue between fans and creators and “seeing someone running around dressed as a character that you play around with all day” is, apparently, pretty great.

Other highlights included Fraction and Hawkeye artist David Aja riffing on the origin of the now-infamous ‘Dog Issue’ (“It started as a game of chicken and no-one blinked”) and sparring verbally with their editor Stephen Wacker – also moderating the panel – when the topic of the lateness of some of their issues arose. DeConnick answered that perpetual question about writer’s block by succinctly redefining it as “courage block”, which most of the other panelists nodded sagely at. Gillen said that anyone who suffers from it’s probably just lazy.

As the day wound down, I was looking forward to the mid-con party, but having to leave the sketching panel early and the battery on my phone dying meant I was separated from my compatriots until well into the Doctor Who50th anniversary show, at which point rum was consumed, anger was expressed at Steven Moffat’s inability to write in anything but tropes and we finally made our way to the Corn Exchange, where a one-in-one-out policy was in place and we were left in the cold for a good 45 minutes with little to warm us but the alcohol in our bellies and the embarrassment of having mistaken one female cartoonist for another – to her face, no less – while congratulating her on what a great sketch she did earlier on. The less said about that, the better, I think.

But then we were allowed in the comics world’s Valhalla. Records were digitally scratched, drinks were drunk, dances were overly enthusiastic and, yes, Gillen did start his set with Be My Baby by The Ronettes, because how could he not?

And that’s all that needs to be said about that. Because writing about an artist’s DJ set is like dancing about his house, right?

Sunday’s From Stands to Screen panel was the only one I managed to attend due to a killer combination of poor planning ahead, taking a somewhat zig-zaggy route through central Leeds to the Armouries and enjoying myself far too much at the mid-con bash the previous night…

All that aside, the panel was very illuminating and broad-ranging, featuring editors from Marvel, Vertigo, 2000 AD in addition to a representative from Mondo and the co-creator of the sublime comic Axe Cop Ethan Nicolle. Most of the conversation centred around the problematic nature of adapting a comic to a very different medium such as film and several of the panelists extolled the virtues of TV as a superior method of adapting long-running stories like those found in ongoing series.

One audience member asked about the likelihood of a future female-led superhero movie, and the (entirely male) panel danced around the issue somewhat, with CB Cebulski (Marvel) speaking of the issue as an ongoing conversation and citing Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as having a “predominantly female cast”, a seemingly statement that’s demonstrably false: there are six lead characters in AoS. Three of them are women. Not so much predominant as equal, which is surely a more positive statement to make? The editor from Vertigo, wry throughout proceedings, joked about not being willing to make a comment before mentioning that he’d love to see a Wonder Woman movie but there wasn’t a whole lot that could be done until the stars aligned.

That brings up one of my issues with these kinds of panels; while they’re normally compelling enough for the duration (especially when more creators who’ve had something of theirs adapted, as in last year’s counterpart panel with Jock and Charlie Adlard), they don’t leave me feeling like I learned anything more than the fact that a Kickstarter campaign for a Dredd sequel probably wouldn’t work. There’s something of a distance between the comics people and the movie industry, and we’re only getting insights from one side of the fence, which makes for a lot of agreement and not much genuine discussion. In a perfect world we’d be able to hear just as much from someone adapting a book as someone having theirs adapted and have the sense that maybe there’s a dialogue occurring between the two and not just grumbling from the sidelines.

As that was the last panel of the day – and, indeed, Thought Bubble’s final event at the Armouries – I retired to the solace of much-needed pizza and the dread of public transport, certain in the knowledge that I’d be aching and weary for days to come. My back was already close to giving out, but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

See you next year.

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Thought Bubble 2013

I had a whole post written making fun of the train car I’m sitting in stinking of weed and using that to segue into mentioning that I’m heading to Leeds to attend Thought Bubble 2013, but public transport and me blogging have a Tom & Jerry-esque relationship (clue: I’m not Jerry) and the whole damn thing went up in smoke, so I’ll just lay it out for ya:
I’m writing about the con for Nerdly, so watch this space.

Until it’s filled, you can check out my guide to this year’s Thought Bubble if you feel in need of guidance or just want to be able to effectively stalk me over the weekend.

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Dawn of the Reds – An I Am Tim Commentary

I’d really love to write a longer post about this (and probably will), including interviews with the various people involved in this episode since its conception years ago, but right now it’s somewhat more prudent to just get the thing in front of your eyes. Not a part of the original Season 2 line-up (which is a whole other story altogether; in fact, the fidgety, dysfunctional nature of I Am Tim as its own entity would make a great post all on its own), this “very special” episode of Tim likely exists in a slightly different universe to that of the series for the cast and crew most familiar with it due to the many attempts to figure out the right approach and its fluid, increasingly mythical status as…well, not so much “unfilmable” as “filmable when we get around to it”.

Hell, you should just watch the damn thing before I waffle on too much. Part Battle Royale, part Running Man and all nonsense, here’s Dawn of the Reds:

And there you have it. Since my fingers are flying and I haven’t posted much of anything in almost a week, I might as well carry on while there’s still gas in the tank.

This is an odd episode to think about having a hand in, especially since it existed in some form or another (like the bulk of Tim which I’m anachronistically credited in) about two years before I had even met creator Jamie McKeller. This is an educated guess so take it with a pinch of salt (and am happy to be corrected by anyone with the pertinent info) but I believe the first draft/outline of DotR came about in 2010, around the time when Season 1 was being made on no budget by a crew of two who (by Jamie’s own confession) had no idea what they were doing. I met Jamie in late 2011 on the set of the yet-to-be-released microbudget feature Nothing Man,
in which he was appearing and showing bits of Season 2 to the cast and crew during lunch breaks.

The rest is nostalgia fodder for some other time, but by spring 2013 I was writing Season 3 with Jamie & James, and Dawn was still a seldom-whispered notion to me and a twinkle in Jamie’s eye. I couldn’t tell you exactly how many drafts there had been before I was asked to have a crack at the script, but it’s not modesty that leads me to say that what I received was pretty damn close to the finished product, and most definitely an object of McKeller’s invention. Mostly I just added some jokes, trimmed some dialogue and tried to sprinkle some added character depth here and there, so I wouldn’t have been surprised or hurt if I ultimately got an “additional material” credit or even just a “special thanks”, but Jamie’s a generous guy.

I’ve occasionally beaten myself up for not trying to overhaul the script in order to make it as good as it could have possibly been, but to do that would have been to alter its essence and turn it into something not inherently I Am Tim (especially with the ideas I had and still have for new episodes…), and that would have been a mistake.

It seems odd to talk about the “essence” of a Youtube video in which young people in uniform try to dig bombs out of each others’ scalps and the most heartfelt line reading comes from a mass-murderer who really wants a Twix, but when you spend a while with this stuff you kind of get attached to it. Which is in itself weird because I almost feel like as much of an audience member as anyone else, despite having a not in/significant (delete as appropriate) hand in its creation, and yet I can’t watch the episode with any kind of objective eye.

I suspect that’s a similar feeling for a few people who’ve been involved with Tim generally and DotR specifically over the years, who wonder how much their contribution mattered in the long run, if at all. I’m kind of an optimist in that regard, insofar as that a Dawn of the Reds made four years ago would probably have been a far inferior product, for countless reasons.

It occurs to me that I’ve been talking about appropriate credit this whole time despite there not actually being a credits list for this episode yet, at least not on the credits page of the I Am Tim site where they live (there are never credits on an episode of Tim, in keeping with its mockumentary nature), as it’s been due for an update since episode 2.10.

[Not that I’m suggesting anyone needs to buck their ideas up and GIVE ME A DAMN WRITING CREDIT ALREADY.]

So I could be way off. Maybe everyone who’s ever suggested a fun death scene or supportively asked, “So how’s that Dawn of the Reds thingy going?” might end up getting a healthy mention. Not that the inclusion of something like that would change or legitimise their involvement in any way. I mean, does anyone beside me actually read the credits of web series anyway?

I thought not. Anyway, all this has made me think of a quote attributed to Harry S. Truman: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” I’ve applied it to projects I’ve been on and think it’s a pretty pragmatic mantra for anyone wanting to get into the screenwriting business, but it’s especially pertinent when talking about no-budget productions and web series, in which the chief satisfaction comes from actually having made something, rather than having someone know you made something.

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Recap: “Fzzt”

Written by Paul Zbyszewski | Directed by Vincent Misiano | Created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen

simmons

After five decidedly hit-and-miss episodes and a week off the air, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has come back with “F.Z.Z.T.”, possibly the strongest and definitely the most emotionally engaging entry to the series so far, though reminders of the limitations of bringing the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the small screen are still never far away , as evidenced in this week’s (relatively few) action sequences.

The central mystery of the episode has Coulson and his team trying to puzzle out how a camp leader and firefighter ended up dead and floating six feet off the ground.

The detective work from the agents is fairly rote and it’s quickly discovered that the culprit is not a murderer targeting members of a fireman team who were in New York during the Chitauri invasion in Avengers but a virus contracted by the men when they cleaned a recovered alien helmet (though that doesn’t stop us being fed a brief, all but negligible red herring about a serial killer). But that’s not a big deal as the real story of “F.Z.Z.T.” lies in Fitz/Simmons’ relationship and Coulson’s difficulty with his body post-Avengers; both welcome changes from the ongoing angst-ridden saga of Skye and constant non-teases of Melinda May’s past, though both crop up fleetingly.

The virus in question is actually pretty novel: making itself known to the victim through a buzzing only they can hear, they begin involuntarily sweating and making objects around them float before giving off a wide electromagnetic pulse that also inconveniently kills them. It’s almost a cliche in genre and action-based television – giving the ensemble an enemy that they can neither hit (as Ward laments later on) or defuse to solve the problem – but it’s for pretty good reason as those episodes tend to focus on characterisation and emotion rather than the more fleeting kick-punching of other installments.

About halfway through the episode Simmons shows symptoms of having the virus (contracted when she received a static shock from the first body) and the firemen are pretty swiftly forgotten, although Coulson’s palpable frustration at not having been able to save the last victim goes a long way towards reminding us that Agents really is trying to be a show about the people on the ground of the Marvel U, even if it does spend most of its time 30,000 feet above sea level.

This is where the episode kicks in, and there’s really not that much to say about it other than that Elizabeth Henstridge (Simmons) really does a tremendous job of stepping up to a central role after having been confined to technobabble and awkward nerdery for the bulk of the series so far. She and Fitz (Ian de Caestecker) are the emotional core of “F.Z.Z.T.”, and maybe even the whole show, because – as we learn through their variously panicked and heated discussions in and around Simmons’ quarantine area/lab – they’re the least qualified people to be on this team, just like us. Sure, they have specialist knowledge and are invaluable assets to Coulson and the rest, but they didn’t pass the field exams and are pretty sure that, although the experiences they’re having are once in a lifetime opportunities, that’s because people usually die from them and they’re ill-equipped to deal with that very concept, let alone the reality. Anyone who’s ever felt out of their depth can relate to that, and Fitz/Simmons’ constant reality checks ground us much more than Skye’s flippant attitude and one-liners.

If anything, this is probably the most ‘Joss Whedon’ episode of S.H.I.E.L.D. so far, possibly more by legacy than active involvement on his part. It’s been said many times by Buffy the Vampire Slayer writers that they discovered early on the best way to worry viewers or grab their attention was to put Willow in danger – she wasn’t a fighter, she was a nerd, and thus more inherently vulnerable, like many of that show’s viewers felt as a teenager. The parallels between Alyson Hannigan’s character (at least in the first few seasons) and Simmons are pretty obvious: both are tech-savvy, bright and enthusiastic but not on their social A-game. Judging by how big a following Buffy (and, in particular, Willow) developed, I’m taking this as a positive sign for S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s future.

But there’s another Whedon show – an exact episode, even – that’s had an even clearer influence on this episode: “A Hole in the World” from Angel‘s fifth season, in which Fred (that series’ heart and resident nerd – see a pattern emerging?) is exposed to an ancient disease that eventually hollows her out and replaces her with a god-like being, with no semblance of Fred present other than her appearance.

Clearly there’s a difference in context between the two episodes (“A Hole in the World” takes place seven episodes before the end of the series, while “F.Z.Z.T.” is too new an entry to have the same emotional heft or backstory), but the similarities are striking, especially in the other characters’ reactions to Simmons’ plight Most are upset and powerless to help, especially the group’s leader (Coulson/Angel), but the other nerd in the group with the strongest personal connection to the infected (Fitz/Wesley) does everything in his power to help, even when the person he’s helping has already resigned herself to her fate.

The crucial difference, however, is how it all ends.

Like Fred, Simmons gives up on finding a cure after her last lab rat is left floating in its cage, knocks out Fitz with a fire extinguisher (somewhat brutally for a woman of science, I thought) and throws herself from the plane’s hangar so that she doesn’t take everyone else with her when she blows. If only she’d waited for ten more seconds; then she would have seen that the rat was just knocked unconscious & the anti-serum worked.

Fitz makes a grand gesture in attempting to follow Simmons and save her life in mid-air, but the more capable (and likely pretty bored) Ward snatches the parachute away from him and does the honours pretty dependably in a slightly iffy – if brief – green-screen freefalling sequence.

So Simmons lives, much to the surprise of cynical television critics who expect characters in Whedon’s shows to be picked off fairly rapidly, and it really couldn’t have ended any other way; sure, there’s shock value to be had in killing off a character early in a series’ run (Revolution), but it rarely ever pays off because we hadn’t been given enough reason to care about them in the first place (Revolution).

Granted, I already care about Simmons enough that her death would matter to me, but we’ll let that slide on account of decent character work.

After the main events, we’re given little hints at where Agents might be heading next – Coulson stands up for himself and his team in front of Item 47‘s Agent Blake (Titus Welliver), much to the latter’s surprise, which suggests that they might be facing off against the head office at some point…which is another Whedon trope (Angel S5, Dollhouse). Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I don’t need to detail the show’s issues – which are still present here, if muted – but after this latest episode I’m pretty confident that if I stick around and find out what direction we’re headed in, I’m going to enjoy the ride more than anything else.

[Originally posted at Nerdly]

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Hot Cameo Action

I Am Tim Episode 2.13, featuring ghosts, scares, pantomime sexual politics and an abundance of face time from yours truly:

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The Talented Asshole Problem

In other comic-related news, artist Tess Fowler recently came out about a run-in she had with a successful and popular male comic creator who verbally abused her at a con and (allegedly) acts pretty reprehensibly towards women with an alarming frequency.

I don’t know what’s true and what’s not, but the fact that she was backing up someone else’s allegations doesn’t look good for the dude concerned. It’s troubling for the usual reasons misogyny is troubling – people writing it off as nothing, others supporting the accused’s right to be an asshole, etc. etc.. It’s all pretty well-trod territory and I’m seriously doubtful I can bring anything fresh or helpful to that debate. But it’s especially troubling to me because I read that guy’s work. I like that guy’s work, and I don’t know if this new information changes anything about that.

I’ve had dozens of conversations about the separation between artists and their art in which I’ve come down on the side of still being willing and able to appreciate what someone has created completely aside from the fact that they’re a morally reprehensible human being. It usually helps that I’m talking about work that was done decades before and that I know my ownership of it doesn’t give legitimacy to whatever intolerant nonsense they’re spouting or the terrible acts they may have committed and doesn’t financially benefit them to a degree that would change anything.

A couple of examples:

I picked up a paperback copy of Ender’s Game at a charity shop a couple of months ago for about £1.50, largely because I had read about it being a great science-fiction novel that has little to do with its author Orson Scott Card’s homophobic bile that’s been the cause of the controversy surrounding the imminent movie adaptation of said book. No bones about that: none of the money was going into Card’s pocket and I didn’t feel like spending the price of a train station pastry on a 28 year-old novel would look like a vindication of his ‘values’. I’ll probably go see the movie too, which is harder to defend in the same way (although apparently the author’s not getting any of the box office profits) until you realise that hundreds of people worked on it and I’d wager a pretty large sum that most of them weren’t burning with anti-gay sentiment while shooting (or otherwise), and it’s unfair that their hard work should go unrewarded if it’s actually a decent flick.

In a more remote instance, it’s hard to generate an image of Dennis Hopper as a decent human being when I know for a fact that he was a violent, abusive drunk whose second wife Michelle Phillips described their week-long marriage as the Seven-Day War (incidentally, you should go read Easy Riders, Raging Bulls). That said, it’s impossible not to regard Easy Rider as a seminal piece of filmmaking that forever changed the landscape of Hollywood and American cinema for the better – at least for the first ten years or so – and to disregard his breathtakingly ugly performance as Frank Booth in Blue Velvet is to ignore an actor at the peak of their craft, and that’s difficult to do.

[In fact, Hopper’s performance in that movie is supposedly so drawn from his own personality that he actually once called up director David Lynch and told him, “I am Frank!”]

But does watching Blue VelvetRumble Fish or even Rebel Without a Cause mean I approve of Dennis Hopper’s personal life or even like the guy? Of course not. And to be perfectly fair, I didn’t know the guy. Most of the heinous shit I’ve heard or read about him happened in the ’60s and ’70s, so there’s nothing to say he didn’t change before he died in 2010. That doesn’t excuse anything he did, but it at least means we should probably think about him as a human being with flaws (albeit somewhat more heightened than others) instead of a cardboard monster.

But dealing with something that happened 30 or 40 years ago is admittedly a lot easier than something that’s happening right now, which brings us back to the writer in question. I have a couple of his comics on my pull list; they’re not properties he owns so I’m reasonably sure he doesn’t get the lion’s share of the profits, but I’m still contributing to his continued success in an industry in which he (again, allegedly) acts a manner I can’t knowingly stomach.

And the thing is, he isn’t writing stories which uphold values I don’t. He writes well-rounded male and female characters and has been lauded for doing so. Maybe he’s well aware of his own flaws, knows that they don’t have a place in any healthy society and so at least tries to fix them in his work? Maybe, but that also sounds dangerously like a rationalisation. And I’m not particularly comfortable making up a defense for someone who hasn’t (to my limited knowledge) admitted that they’ve done wrong.

So I’m kinda stuck. Really, it would  make it so much easier if he was an asshole on the page as well as in the street.

At least people are talking about it, though, right?

[via Bleeding Cool]

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Bat to the Future

I just read an essay on how The Dark Knight Rises is really about Christopher Nolan’s reluctance to make The Dark Knight Rises. If you’re into gross over-analysis of comic book movies and managed to get through my batessays back when TDKR came out last year then you’ll probably get a kick out of it. The author manages to articulate a lot of things that were swimming around my head but never got pinned down, and its reading of the final moments of the movie – Nolan passing the burden of shepherding the Caped Crusader through his next incarnation on to another director while freeing himself from the restrictive shackles of his self-built prison – actually makes me feel a little more positive about the film than I did before.

So that’s something. You can read it here.

[via /Film]

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